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Education

Estyn optimistic about improvement

Jon Coles

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There is sustained improvement: Kirsty Williams welcomes report

THE BIGGEST trend in Welsh education over the last seven years has been the move towards a culture of self-improvement.

According to Estyn’s Chief Inspector’s Annual Report published on Wednesday (Jan 24), schools and other education and training providers increasingly take ownership of their own improvement and share expertise and best practice with each other.

Chief Inspector Meilyr Rowlands says​:​ “Looking back over the last seven-year cycle of inspections, there’s been a shift in education in Wales towards greater collaboration. It’s clear from our inspections of over 2,700 schools, non-maintained settings, colleges and other education and training organisations that there is enough excellence across Welsh education to support improvement and help reduce variability.

“This spirit of cooperation is most obvious in the way that the new curriculum is being developed with the teaching profession and how schools themselves are beginning to develop innovative teaching and learning practices. Consortia of local authorities work together and schools support each other to improve teachers’ professional skills.”

In schools like Ysgol Gynradd Bynea, Llanelli, pupils led a project to develop an outside learning village. Learners developed a range of skills from designing architectural models to budgeting and placing orders. In the further education sector, Pembrokeshire College has developed partnerships that support the development of skills in Pembrokeshire, improve learners’ access to post-16 education and engage with hard-to-reach groups.

More findings from the seven-year inspection cycle:

  • Inspection findings this year are broadly similar to those for the last seven years as a whole. Seven-in-ten primary schools inspected this year are good or excellent, similar to last year, while half of secondary schools inspected are good or excellent, a bit better than last year
  • There are many strengths in nursery settings, maintained special schools and in further education colleges, where the quality of education provided is good or better in most cases. Variability within and between providers remains a challenge in most other sectors.
  • Schools that are most successful at raising standards for all their pupils and at closing the gap in the performance of pupils eligible for free school meals compared to their peers, encourage greater involvement of parents and the community and create a culture where education is respected and valued.
  • In the quarter of schools that deliver the Foundation Phase well, pupils make good progress, become confident learners, and are well-prepared for future learning. But many schools remain reliant on more traditional teaching methods, especially for children aged 5 to 7.
  • As the secondary school accountability system became increasingly linked to examination results, some schools focused too much on examination technique rather than on providing a broad education. The best schools develop learners’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes to learning by capturing their interest through engaging learning experiences.
  • Mergers of further education colleges have resulted in a smaller number of large providers. The new leadership teams of these institutions have overseen improved provision in this sector over the last seven years.

Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, welcomed the report as further evidence that Wales’ education system is uniting in a mission of self-improvement.

The Welsh Government also expressed pleasure in the ​’​spirit of cooperation​’​ with the teaching profession in developing a new curriculum.
The report also welcomes:

  • The establishment of a National Academy of Educational Leadership;
  • A “more systematic approach” to how pupils learn, apply and practise their literacy and numeracy across the curriculum;
  • Major changes in how professional learning is organised;
  • Improvements in attendance and behaviour;
  • Strengths in learner wellbeing, care, support and guidance, and learning environment; and
  • Strengthened links between higher and further education.

Welcoming the report, Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission for education seeks to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and enjoys public confidence.

“It is clear from reading this report that there is sustained momentum in Welsh education; a culture of self-improvement that is embedded in the system and, most importantly, owned by those working in the profession.

“I am heartened to see the Chief Inspector welcoming the steps we have taken to drive up standards and support improvement in our schools – particularly our efforts to work with the teaching profession in developing the new curriculum.

“The report notes our efforts to reduce the attainment gap, but we know there is no room for complacency. That’s why we’re doubling the Pupil Development Grant for our youngest learners, so that every child has the opportunity to reach their potential.

“By continuing to work together, I am confident that we can achieve our national mission and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.”

David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “This report shows that despite increasingly difficult funding settlements and the ongoing concerns of workload schools and teachers in Wales are continuing to provide an education service we can be proud of. Amongst the many positives identified, it is especially good news to see recognition from Estyn for the work schools are doing to work constructively together.

“The profession has always espoused the benefits of self-improvement, collaboration and the focus on teaching and learning. This report highlights those issues and the benefits to be gleaned when teachers are allowed to take ownership of their teaching practices. This will be a big boost as we seek to implement the new curriculum and highlight the cooperative approach that we see being priorities in communities across Wales.”

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Business

University to host industry summit online

Thomas Sinclair

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SUPPORTING industry’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic is a key priority for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

The University has a track record for working with industry through knowledge transfer, research innovation, workforce development and by providing a ready pipeline of skilled students and graduates, in partnership with employers.

In addition, UWTSD’s MADE Cymru initiative was established to support manufacturing industries in Wales to adapt to the challenges of Industry 4.0.

The initiative, funded by the EU via the Welsh Government, aims to support the economic recovery of manufacturers in Wales by offering part and fully funded training to businesses to upskill staff, as well as research and development that improves processes and products to reduce waste and costs.

In addition, UWTSD and MADE Cymru have organised an Industry Summit to be held online between June 8-10 to inform, engage and inspire businesses during this critical period of post-Covid recovery.

Expert speakers will be sharing their insights including James Davies from Industry Wales, Carol Hall, Regional Investment Manager, Development Bank of Wales, Chris Probert, Innovation Specialist, Welsh Government and Geraint Jones, Knowledge Transfer Adviser at KTN.

The line-up also includes Welsh manufacturers who will be sharing their own experiences, including Tim Hawkins, Managing Director, Markes International, Julia Chesney-Roberts, Commercial Manager, Riversimple, Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh and Jacques Bonfrer, Co-Founder and Team Lead, Bot-Hive.

There will be guest talks from circular economy expert Eoin Bailey and lean author Daryl Powell and an opportunity to find out about the range of services offered by the University.

Graham Howe, Executive Head of the MADE Cymru project at UWTSD says: “This Industry Summit aims to explore issues and challenges facing manufacturing in Wales so that we can work together with employers to find solutions. 

“We always start with asking a manufacturer what their biggest problem is today and look at how we can help them with it.

“We aim to unravel potentially confusing challenges like these. Our approach begins by looking at what companies need to increase their productivity and competitiveness.

“We aim to lead the businesses we work with through a journey of continuous improvement – a journey that makes the most of Industry 4.0 technologies and their ever-growing digital capabilities to help solve the specific problems faced by each company.

“All of the feedback we receive from businesses shapes our curriculum – we want to produce employable, digitally literate graduates who can contribute to their workplace from day one”.

Alison Orrells is CEO and Managing Director of Safety Letterbox and has been one of the organisations participating in the MADE Cymru initiative.

She said: “It was important to keep innovating and investing to set us apart and come out stronger. It’s been intense but we had a game plan – now it is all about business future-proofing, being agile, collaborations and being adaptable.”

Covid-19 has affected every part of a business and shifted the focus from production to survival.

UWTSD recently led a round table discussion with Welsh manufacturers about the future of manufacturing in Wales.

That discussion found that their outlook is positive about the future.

Manufacturers accelerated their adoption of new technologies to enhance and optimise production.

With many employees on furlough, managers took the opportunity to rethink and invest in better IT, particularly communications, training and diversified into new product areas. They looked to local colleges and universities to help shift perceptions of jobs in manufacturing and demonstrated the career opportunities and pathways available.

They also loosened their reliance on overseas imports and looked for suppliers in the UK to minimise future risk of disruption.

All sessions of the Industry Summit are free to attend and places can be booked on the UWTSD website: https://uwtsd.ac.uk/made/made-cymru-industry-summit/

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Education

A long road back for education

Thomas Sinclair

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EVEN before schools find out what the new normal will be, the pressure is already on the education system to deliver significantly more.

Some talk about a ‘lost generation’ needing to ’catch-up’ amid concerns those comments stigmatise children. However, the reality is that children have missed months of face-to-face teaching, and that has inescapable consequences.

DISADVANTAGED SLIP FURTHER BEHIND

Wales’s learners have been part of the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage.’

Although, for now, there are more questions than answers, solutions to repair that ‘damage’ will need to be carefully considered and delivered during the Welsh Parliament’s sixth term.

Even before the pandemic, Wales already faced an uphill struggle to secure good educational outcomes for all its learners.

The most disadvantaged learners have extra challenges which can prevent them from achieving their full potential.

Even though the previous Welsh Government invested £585 million since 2012 through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), the attainment gap it was seeking to close, didn’t narrow.

It also typically widens as learners get older.

There’s a stark difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers at Key Stage 4, the two years where learners usually take GCSEs and other examinations.

Children and young people themselves are well placed to give their verdict.

A 2021 Children’s Commissioner survey of 20,000 children found that 35% didn’t feel confident about their learning, compared to 25% in May 2020. 

63% of 12–18-year-olds were worried about falling behind.

There are countless reports setting out adults’ views about how missing more than half a year of ‘face-to-face’ schooling has affected learners.

One of the major concerns is the variation between what schools have delivered to pupils.

There’s a long list of potential impacts:

·        ‘Lost learning’ meaning pupils could underperform academically and have their long-term prospects affected.

·        A loss of confidence in the examination and assessment system.

·        Long-term reductions in school attendance, a factor known to be key to educational outcomes.

·        Difficult transitions between school years and from primary to secondary.

·        Challenges in re-engaging learners and addressing low motivation.

·        An unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning placing unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people; and

·        A negative effect on learners’ ability and confidence to communicate in Welsh where they haven’t been able to do so at home.

WIDER EFFECTS

As well as these obvious educational issues, there are wider predicted effects.

Current learners could earn less, with one estimate of up to £40,000 in a lifetime.

The harm to children’s physical health and a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are also serious concerns.

 The pandemic’s wider economic impact is also likely to increase the number of children living in low-income families.

Again, it’s the most disadvantaged learners who are predicted to bear the brunt in the longer term.

For example, in March 2021, the Child Poverty Action Group found that 35% of low-income families responding to its UK wide survey were still without essential resources for learning, with laptops and devices most commonly missing.

The Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee heard that there is “plenty of evidence” that” there are striking differences between families in terms of their ability to support young people in their learning: the resources they have around them, the enthusiasm, the engagement, the commitment”.

REBUILDING TRUST

There must be work to rebuild relationships that have been under significant strain during the past 12 months.

Those between teaching unions and the decision-makers within the education system; between parents/carers and schools; and perhaps, most importantly, re-establishing the relationship between learners and their teachers.

Some of the immediate solutions which are already on the table or up for discussion are: more money, including the ‘Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards funding’; more teachers and learning assistants on the ground; changing term times; and setting up summer schools, holiday clubs and home tuition.

However, the longer-term problems are far harder to solve.

One estimate puts the cost of Wales’s journey back from COVID-19 at £1.4 bn to meet the challenges to the education system alone.

The opportunity exists for major reform and an examination of the whole approach to and aim of education.

Children and young people’s return to the classroom has been heralded as a big chance to put their well-being at the heart of education. As well as having a positive impact on well-being, put, mentally healthy children are much more likely to learn.

Following pressure from the Fifth Senedd’s CYPE Committee and its stakeholders, Wales has already made a significant shift towards establishing a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’. The challenge during the Sixth Senedd will be to deliver it.

PERMANENT CHANGE

The potential sting in the tail is that, at the same time, the education system is getting children back to school, it also contends with major legislative reform.

This is in the form of wholesale changes to both the school curriculum and support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.

Some may argue that there’s been no better time to have such significant changes.

If the education system can successfully implement these three major reforms, arguably Wales will complete significant leg work and be on a firmer footing to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19.

At this stage there may be many more questions than answers for the education system.

The world into which learners will move has changed forever.

Not only has the pandemic interrupted their schooling, but the future journeys they were expected to make into the workplace or further and higher education could be unrecognisable.

The skills and aptitudes needed in the ‘new normal’ are only now beginning to be identified and are likely to be different from those needed before the pandemic began.   

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Education

UWTSD launches new Vocal Performance degree

Thomas Sinclair

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UWTSD has launched a new Vocal Performance degree for the next academic year.


Building on the success of the postgraduate programmes at the Wales International Academy of Voice, the newly devised BMus (Hons) Vocal Performance is a specialist industry-focused programme for singers.
The new programme is delivered by expert academics and practitioners of national and international repute within a specialist facility.


Students will be offered extensive 1-to-1 vocal tuition, and masterclasses from world-renowned artists, and of course all of this will be located within our specialist facility in Cardiff.

Modules on the programme examine areas such as vocal technique, performance studies, movement, music theory, technologies of performance and performance projects designed to develop a holistic approach to vocal performance.


Assessment on this programme is by a range of methods offering opportunities to present learning in a variety of different ways throughout the course.


Learning methods include performances, portfolios, technical assessments, recording, electronic testing, arranging, mock auditions, podcasting, essay writing and presentations.


The staff at the Wales International Academy of Voice are looking forward for students to enrol on this newly designed degree.


David Bebbington, Academy Manager and Programme Director said: “Students on the new BMus programme will study voice in a holistic context, enabling them to engage with performance in a variety of settings, and introducing them to the multitude of opportunities available in their future careers.


“Central to the vision of the programme is ‘the industry’, and as such elements of the course will involve aspects of performance, recording, movement, music theory and studio techniques for example.


“At the end of the course, students will move into performance, music creation, teaching or a host of other session music opportunities.”


Barry Liles, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the Wales Institute of Science and Art (WISA) said: “The University is pleased to witness the strategic development of a BMus in Vocal Performance at the Wales International Academy of Voice.


“We believe this programme will provide an exciting opportunity for a significantly greater number of undergraduates to join our prestigious, world-class academy.


“Based on our enviable reputation within this vocal domain, the new programme will provide progression opportunities for our students on to postgraduate study or as practitioners in the sector.”


It is anticipated that graduates of the Vocal Performance programme will commence careers as performers, creators, teachers, recording artists and within various other related disciplines. The BMus (Hons) Vocal Performance may also lead to further postgraduate study.

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